The Nebula Chronicles: Volume I

The Nebula Chronicles: Volume I

by sb white

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781546224587
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 01/25/2018
Pages: 326
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.73(d)

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CHAPTER 1

THE ESCAPE

I watched out the window as the car sped along, the scenery changing quickly, like when you fast-forward a movie. "It has been a long day and will be a long night," said Mrs. Brown, who didn't look like Mrs. Brown any longer. Both her looks and her manner had changed drastically since we left the apartment building this morning. I couldn't believe that I had been completely blind that another person existed below the surface of the woman who called herself Mrs. Brown. She had taken care of me since my mother and I moved to Northern California ten years ago.

When we moved into our apartment, Mrs. Brown was already living in the apartment next door, and she babysat me while my mother worked. After I started school, Mrs. Brown always waited for me at the bus stop at the end of the day, just to make sure I arrived home safe. That is what she would say every day.

Yesterday she wasn't at the bus stop, and when I arrived home from school, there were two policemen waiting for me in my apartment, along with Mrs. Brown. One of the officers held a letter left by my mother, signed and notarized, stating that if anything were to happen to her, Mrs. Brown had legal rights as my guardian and would take me to my aunt, who lived in another state.

Then one of the officers explained that a witness had called in a report of a car being forced off the road by another driver. The car had rolled down a hill and crashed on the rocks that lined the California shoreline, and the car had been pulled out to sea by the strong currents along the cliffs. The rescue team had been unable to pull the car out of the water and back to shore, but a diver had taken a picture of the license plates. The crash had knocked out the front window of the car, and the diver had not been able to find my mother's body. The other policeman mentioned that it was possible her body would wash ashore, but not a great one.

So yesterday morning when I left for school was the last time I ever saw my mother. It seemed unreal, like this was happening to someone else, and I was standing there watching.

As the two officers left the apartment, Mrs. Brown assured them that I would be okay and asked them to let her know when they had more information. She repeated her cell phone number, and the officer nodded as he checked his report, confirming that he had written it down correctly. After the two officers left, Mrs. Brown made several phone calls while fixing us sandwiches to eat. I sat down on the sofa and watched. I felt like I was in a fog, and I was unsure of what I should be feeling.

I was almost thirteen years old and had never experienced anything like this before. As I sat on the sofa, I knew that my life had been turned upside down. Mrs. Brown came over and sat down beside me. She put her arm around me and assured me that everything was going to be fine and that I shouldn't worry. Then she told me to come and eat, which I did, but I don't remember anything until I placed the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

Something didn't seem quite right for the rest of the night. Mrs. Brown told me to pack my one small suitcase and backpack because we would be leaving early in the morning. I told her that I couldn't leave tomorrow; I had sixth-grade finals that I needed to take to graduate into seventh grade. Mrs. Brown said she would contact the school and let them know the situation, and I could take the tests after I was settled at my aunt's house.

My aunt was another puzzle. I had only a few memories from when I was small. One was of my aunt Tessie, or that was what my mother called her. But my memory of Aunt Tessie was fuzzy; when I recalled her, I just saw blowing hair, ribbons, and long skirts. I couldn't say what she looked like, other than like something that could float away in the wind. I once asked my mother why she and my aunt looked different, not at all like sisters, and Mother laughed. She said that Tessie was probably adopted. Mother had never told me stories about them growing up or getting into trouble or about fights that sisters could get into about clothes or other silly things.

I worried. Would I forget my mother, and in time, would she become a vague memory too? Mother had been solid, not frail, and she kept her brown hair cut short. She always seemed to be at work or busy doing something at home. She read a lot, especially newspapers. Every day she would bring home newspapers from different cities and read the want ads and the daily astrology reports and then circle certain phrases.

After school each day, Mother made sure I finished my homework and laid out my clothes for the next day. I wasn't involved in after-school activities because Mother said she didn't have time to drive me and pick me up. I rode the bus to school and home every day. I wondered if I would be missed at school. I didn't have any close friends. The one close friend I used to have moved away last year. Her father was in the army and was reassigned to another base. We promised to keep in touch, but Katy had never written me her new address like she promised.

It was still dark outside when Mrs. Brown woke me and said to get dressed. We had spent the night in her apartment, and I had slept on the couch. There was a taxi waiting for us by the curb, and when we climbed in, Mrs. Brown told the driver she had changed her mind and to take us to the bus stop. The driver replied that it would be the same price as to the airport. I didn't think too much about why she would call for a ride to the airport and then at the last minute decide to take a bus. But it was too early, and I had not slept very well on the lumpy couch.

At the bus stop, I waited while Mrs. Brown purchased two tickets and then followed her to the waiting area. She said it would not be much longer before the bus arrived but did not say where we were going. She opened the large tote bag she carried and pulled out a fried egg sandwich and a bottle of water and handed them to me. She told me to eat up because we might not have time to stop for breakfast.

I had just finished eating when a large bus pulled up outside. As we boarded, the driver offered to put my small suitcase in the luggage area underneath the bus, but Mrs. Brown replied that we would keep it with us. In the back of the bus, we found two seats on one side and sat down. I shuddered. It was cool outside, but I wasn't cold. Instead it was like icy fingers had crawled up my spine.

Once the bus was rolling down the highway, Mrs. Brown was vigilant in watching the sign above the driver's head that announced the next stop and the minutes until the bus arrived there. I had just noticed that the next stop was about five minutes away when Mrs. Brown stood up and said that we should use the restroom while we had the opportunity. I started to protest that I didn't need to go, but she took my arm, whispered, "Hurry," and pulled me from my seat.

The bathroom barely had room for both of us, and I wondered why we needed to go in together. Once we were inside with the door locked, Mrs. Brown opened her large tote bag and pulled out a baseball cap and a small jacket. She told me to tuck my hair underneath the cap and to put on the light-gray jacket. From the puzzled look on my face, she said she would explain everything as soon as we got off the bus.

She opened my small suitcase, took out my clothes, and pushed them into the tote bag and then removed the bulky sweater she was wearing and placed it in the suitcase. If I had been more aware, I would have noticed that Mrs. Brown had magically shrunk at least two dress sizes. Mrs. Brown pulled her hair loose from the tie in the back, shook her head, and let her hair hang to her shoulders. "Ready," she said, more to herself than to me, and then she opened the bathroom door and stepped out.

She placed my suitcase on the floor and with her foot pushed it under one of the seats at the rear of the bus. Her timing had been perfect. The bus rolled up to the stop, and the doors in the front and back opened. Mrs. Brown stepped out and turned to wait for me, looking nothing like the person who had boarded the bus, and I looked nothing like the young girl who had boarded the bus.

Mrs. Brown fast-walked away from the bus stop and headed down the street. I hurried to keep up, looking around while wondering where we were and where we were going. I swung my backpack over my shoulder and quickened my pace. We came to a large shopping area filled with tall buildings. Mrs. Brown stopped by a store entrance and waited for me to catch up. She said this would only take a minute, and then we stepped inside, and she walked up to the counter.

She spoke with a clerk, who handed her a set of keys and pointed toward the back. Mrs. Brown thanked the clerk, picked up her tote bag, and headed to the back, with me close on her heels. She pushed open the back door and stepped into a large parking lot filled with cars. Mrs. Brown checked the keys in her hand and pushed on a button. One of the cars double-chirped, and we hurried over to it and climbed in. After making sure our seat belts were fastened, Mrs. Brown drove away.

It was a strange experience because I hadn't known that Mrs. Brown could drive a car. Mother owned an old Ford Escort and drove to work, but rarely did we take any trips in the car. I wondered when Mrs. Brown had learned to drive.

It seemed we had been driving forever, and the only time we had stopped was to use the facilities at a McDonald's and grab some burgers. Every now and then, Mrs. Brown would look at me and ask how I was doing and again repeat that everything would be okay. She had said she would explain everything when we were off the bus, but she had been so intense about getting off the bus with our looks changed, finding the rental car place, and then driving away like someone was chasing us that I didn't want to distract her. So I sat in the front seat and silently stared out the window.

Finally, Mrs. Brown took an exit off the freeway and drove toward a rest area. It was dark outside now, but the rest area was well lit, and signs advertising vending machines lined the entrance to the building. Mrs. Brown mumbled that we had made it and drove to the end of the parking area and parked the car. She took money from her tote bag and handed it to me. She told me to go use the restroom and then get something to eat — and to be sure and wash my hands, she added. I really needed to go, so I didn't wait for Mrs. Brown. Besides, I was hungry.

A few minutes later, I needed both hands to carry the drinks and food I had purchased at the vending machines. I had been impressed with all the selections. Since I was watching where I was walking, I didn't notice until I was almost to the car that Mrs. Brown was talking to someone. There was a Jeep parked beside us that definitely wasn't new. Katy's dad owned a Jeep, so I knew what they looked like. Haltingly, I stepped closer, not wanting to interrupt but wanting to hear what was being said. The past two days had been strange, and now a stranger was standing here, having a discussion with Mrs. Brown.

Mrs. Brown turned and saw me and motioned me over. She smiled and said that the young man's name was Kent. When she introduced me as Mary Jane, Kent smiled. As I wondered what was so funny, he said he was glad to see me again.

Kent opened the rear door of the Jeep and offered to hold the drinks while I climbed in, but there was no way I was getting into the battered old Jeep. Mrs. Brown reached out to help me, and I backed away and told her that now would be a good time to explain what going on.

She could tell that I wasn't going to budge, so she reached into the tote bag, and like it was Santa's magic sack, she took out an envelope with my name written across the front. It looked like my mother's handwriting. "This is from your mother and will explain everything," she said, holding out the envelope.

Kent said that we needed to leave, and I could read the letter in the Jeep. Mrs. Brown almost pleaded for me to trust her, and I decided I really didn't have a choice. I asked about the car we had driven here in, and she said someone from the rental car company would come and pick it up. She looked at her watch and said we needed to leave before they got here. Kent added that he didn't want anyone seeing the Jeep or reading the license number. Then he asked Mrs. Brown about her cell phone, and she replied that she had removed the battery and memory card and thrown the phone in one of the large trash cans.

I clutched the envelope and climbed into the back seat. Mrs. Brown climbed into the front, and Kent quickly drove away from the parking area, but he did not drive back onto the freeway. He drove down a small dirt road that ran beside the highway until the road turned toward some distant mountains.

It was dark inside the Jeep, and I didn't see any overhead lights to turn on so that I could read the letter from my mother. Besides, the road was bumpy, causing the old Jeep to bounce and jerk as it went. Mrs. Brown, who looked nothing like the old Mrs. Brown, turned and smiled and said for at least the twentieth time that everything would be okay. The drinks and snacks sat on the seat beside me.

I looked at Kent, trying to dig up any memory of him, but I could not. I wondered what he had meant — that it was good to see me again. Mrs. Brown turned around and said we should eat, so I gave her what I had bought for her. She told Kent she was glad that he was driving and tore open a pack of cashew nuts. I decided to eat; I might need the energy later.

It was crazy not knowing what was going on or where we were going. I leaned forward in my seat and looked at Mrs. Brown and asked, "Is this an escape?" Though I wasn't sure why, I had a feeling that we were escaping from someone or something.

Mrs. Brown puzzled over my question for a moment and then replied that is was more like a retreat, not an escape, which made no sense to me.

The bumping and rocking of the old Jeep, combined with the effects of the long bus and car rides, lulled me to sleep. It may have been the rocking had stopped that later woke me, and I slowly sat up. While I was asleep, the baseball cap had fallen off, and I pushed my hair from my face. Kent stopped the Jeep and put it in park. He looked at Mrs. Brown and said, "Welcome back to the compound."

Mrs. Brown replied that everything looked as she remembered.

The narrow dirt road had ended in a large clearing, and I could see a house with a porch stretching across the front and a wooden swing that I recognized. This was the place I recalled when I tried to remember my childhood. The front door opened, and a slim woman with fly-away hair tied with ribbons and wearing a long skirt, hurried out and waved to us. Mrs. Brown stepped from the Jeep and went to meet Aunt Tessie. Kent stepped out, opened the rear door for me, and said, "Welcome home, Arris."

CHAPTER 2

THE RETURN

It felt as if I were in a dream as I slowly walked toward Aunt Tessie, who was hugging Mrs. Brown as if they knew each other, which of course they did. Aunt Tessie wiped tears from her eyes, turned toward me, and held open her arms. When I stepped close, she wrapped her arms around me and exclaimed, "We have been so anxious for your return."

I didn't reply because I didn't know what to say to someone I barely remembered. I pulled away from her arms, remembering the envelope that I held tight, and walked over to the porch and sat down on the wooden swing. I heard Mrs. Brown say, "Give her some time to adjust," and I realized that she was talking about me.

It was time to learn what was going on. I opened the envelope, pulled out a sheet of paper filled with my mother's handwriting, and began reading.

Dear Arris,

If you are reading this, it means that I have been found, and it is not safe for you to stay with me any longer. First, don't worry about me. I am safe, and if all goes as planned, I will see you again in the future. Second, trust Mrs. Brown and Aunt Tessie; they are guardians and sworn to keep you safe. I am also a guardian, and it has been a great joy watching over you these past years. You must have a hundred questions running through your mind, and I am sure at the top of the list is who are you and why all the secrecy? Tess will answer all of your questions and explain everything. It has been an honor to be your mother for the past ten years. Stay vigilant.

My head was spinning in circles, and I grabbed hold of the swing so I wouldn't fall off. My mother was not my mother, and the closest people in my life were not who I thought they were. I wasn't even Mary Jane, but at least this was a name I didn't really care for. I had always wished I had a more modern name like the other girls in school. Apparently, my real name was Arris; Kent had called me by that name too. Kent — who was he, and was Kent his real name? I carefully folded the paper and placed it back in the envelope. I glanced up to see Kent, Aunt Tessie, and Mrs. Brown all watching me.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Nebula Chronicles Volume I"
by .
Copyright © 2018 sb white.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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